SAFEGUARDS | Food NO. 129/16

SafeGuardS fresh vegetables in basket

Consumer protection ministers of the German federal states have decided on criteria for the use of the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” on food labeling, and given a clear vote in favor of harmonizing criteria across Europe.

Increasing numbers of vegetarians and vegans in Germany mean that the market relevance of food which is produced without any, or certain, animal ingredients is growing. Regulation (EC) 1169/2011 empowers the European Commission to adopt delegated acts for the labeling of food that is suitable for vegetarians or vegans. To date, neither national nor European legislation have yet provided legally binding requirements for the labeling of vegan and vegetarian food. 

At a conference in April, consumer protection ministers of the German federal states gave a clear vote in favor of establishing harmonized criteria for the definition of the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” in European food labeling. At this conference, in Dusseldorf, they agreed specific definitions of these terms, which shall be the basis for the evaluation of food information for the German authorities:

Vegan foods are products that are not of animal origin. At every stage of manufacturing and processing they shall not include, or come into contact with ingredients (additives, carriers, flavorings, enzymes), processing aids or substances, that are not explicitly listed/permitted as food additives, but are used in the same way, of animal origin, in processed or unprocessed form.

Vegetarian foods are products that satisfy the requirements for vegan product, but may contain milk, colostrum, eggs, honey, beeswax, propolis and lanolin, or their derivatives.

Food may be labeled as vegan or vegetarian despite the unintentional presence of components that are not in accordance to these criteria, if and insofar as these are technically unavoidable at all stages of the food chain considering good manufacturing practice (e.g. spatial separation during production). A zero-tolerance approach would however be considered as inequitable rigidity within the evaluation, as it would set a too strict limit to fulfill the requirements of these criteria.

These definitions are intended to be applicable also to synonym wordings of “vegetarian” and “vegan”, and food information understood in the same way, both in words and pictures, for all information given about food.

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Reference (in German only):

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Sigrid Borbonus
Consultant Food

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